Bakassi: Money Wise, Time Foolish

In Breaking News, Reports

by Ayodele Akinkuotu

Why are we this way? We had all of 10 years to appeal the judgement of the International Court of Justice, ICJ, on the Bakassi Peninsula. We did not. The impression was given by the federal government that nothing could be done about The Hague judgement.

Thus we were ready to abide by the ensuing Green Tree Agreement, GTA. Now, a few days to the end of the 10-year window of opportunity granted by the court during which all steps should have been taken by Nigeria and Cameroon to settle all outstanding issues, especially as regards Nigerians who are indigenes of Bakassi, we have suddenly woken up from our slumber.

Even members of the Senate are ready to contribute money for Nigeria to file its appeal which must reach The Hague not later than October 9, 2012. According to Abdul Ningi, deputy Senate leader, in a motion on the floor of the Senate “let the government appeal and we are ready to contribute money to fund the legal processes.” This statement is not only music to the ear, but a commendable and patriotic stance that has come a decade too late.

He was stoutly supported by many members, including David Mark, Senate president. All of a sudden, our attention is being drawn to Article 61 of the statute of the ICJ which gives room for appeal if there are ‘areas of errors or unknown facts from the judgment’. For a country that has been producing lawyers since the 1880s, where were all our legal luminaries?

It has taken Nigeria 10 years to come to the realisation that the judgement “was erroneously based on the agreement between the British and Calabar chiefs in 1884.” This is another poser. Accusing fingers had all along been pointing in the direction of General Yakubu Gowon, former military head of state, as being responsible for ceding the Peninsula to Cameroon in exchange for their support during the nation’s civil war.

Furthermore, Ningi observed in his motion that “there has never been a precedent in history where any case of this nature was executed without a referendum as enshrined by the United Nations.” The failure to carry out a referendum, in local parlance, amounted to shaving the heads of the indigenes of Bakassi in absentia.

The Senators are not the only prominent Nigerians asking the government of late to appeal the judgement. Professor Wole Soyinka, Nobel laureate, added his weighty voice to that call recently.

That is understandable, for the ranks of the Bakassi people have been restive of late. And since the judgement 10 years ago, not a few Nigerians have protested strongly about the decision of the federal government to abide by the controversial judgement.

President Goodluck Jonathan reiterated that position while he was in New York last week for the UN General Assembly. Mark noted the President’s statement while contributing to the debate in the Senate. However, he urged the Jonathan administration to speed up on the appeal process, as time was not on nation’s side.

In the immediate aftermath of the judgement, indigenes of the area went as far as forming the Bakassi Liberation Front which was bent on confronting Cameroon. But the wind went out of the Front’s sail when Peter Ene, the leader of the group, died in a motor accident on the day Nigeria handed over the Peninsula to Cameroon.

Ene was said to be on his way to the Peninsula with some other members of the group in a spirited effort to disrupt the handing over. Perhaps, it is the realisation that October 9 is around the corner that has returned the Bakassi issue to the front-burner.

Lately, some of the indigenes have vowed that having been abandoned by Nigeria, they have taken their fate in their hands. And thus they were ready to do anything including secession to stay independent of Cameroon.

There is a move to set up a “Bakassi Radio” to aid the people in their quest for justice. Alarmed by the restiveness, Governor Liyel Imoke of Cross River State appealed to the people to calm down. They are not likely to take the appeal seriously though.

There had been many of such in the past that yielded no fruit. Now with the groundswell of support being championed by the National Assembly, the Bakassi people may be seeing some silver lining at the end of a long dark tunnel.

That notwithstanding, if ever President Jonathan moved fast enough to beat the deadline for an appeal, the issue remains thorny, both legal and political.

A former attorney general of the federation, Richard Akinjide, has advised Nigeria to exercise caution on the matter. He was part of the legal team that handled the case for Nigeria at the ICJ.

In an address recently, the legal luminary reiterated his view that there were a number of issues in the Bakassi matter that “are political in nature”. That is the heart of the matter. We had 10 years to address both the political and the legal dimensions, but we ignored them and went to sleep.

The judgement was given under President Olusegun Obasanjo. And under him, Nigeria decided to play the Big Brother by agreeing to abide by the judgement, thus ceding oil-rich Bakassi to Cameroon. The then President promised to work closely with the Cross River State government to relocate indigenes of the peninsula. Nothing has come of that promise.

Even the Green Tree Agreement is said to have been observed in the breach by Cameroon. Its officials, especially the gendarmes, are believed to violate the fundamental rights of Nigerians still living on the Peninsula. And Nigerian authorities are not unaware of this breach.

We have come to this impasse, perhaps because Bakassi is inhabited by a minority ethnic group. Could any part of Igbo, Yoruba or Hausa land be simply given away without a long-drawn “battle”? And still talking of the political perspective to this matter, in other more sensitive climes, the fate of Bakassi would have been an election issue in the run-down to the 2003 general election.

The roiling issue has now boiled down to the ability of a government to protect its country’s territorial integrity. In the immediate aftermath of the judgement in 2002, both the ruling party and the opposition failed to recognise the import of the ICJ judgement.

That failure will haunt the nation for a while yet. Even if President Jonathan hearkens to the Senate’s call, not treating it as another resolution that has no legal binding on the Executive, the road to travel in the matter of this appeal remains arduous.

Cameroon is going to stand by the 2002 judgement with tenacity. Do not forget crude oil, the goose laying the golden egg, is involved in this matter. Cameroon can improve the welfare of its citizens with revenue from this resource.

What is equally not in doubt is that whether Nigeria appeals the judgement or not, the matter will not die a natural death. Considering the energy which the indigenes of Bakassi have dispensed of late to return the matter to the front-burner of national and international discourse, Cameroon will, in occupying the Peninsula, be like the proverbial hen perching on a rope.

Neither the hen nor the rope will know peace. And Nigeria too will get its own share of the likely insurrection.

Culled from Tell Magazine

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